Hunting seasons is upon us, and there will be adequate game for hunters. Someone once wrote that the amount of available game Texans consider “just average” can seem like a bumper crop to those less fortunate living in the other 49 states.
Bear in mind that this research forecast was put together during the summer and a lot can change by opening day. Droughts eventually break, often with massive storms. All we can offer are informed opinions about how it looks at press time. While a game biologist, former Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Bob Cook once asked how we could expect him to forecast fall conditions when the bluebonnets were still blooming.
Without further delay, here’s what they say.
Unless you started reading this forecast in the middle, you have heard as much as you will ever care to about “drought,” “no forb production,” “no fawning or nesting cover,” “no rainfall since September,” “below-average antlers” and so on. It’s a grim forecast if you look just at range and habitat conditions. But there’s more to a deer season forecast than the habitat and game conditions.
Biologists refer to antler development as a three-legged stool: one leg is genetics, one is nutrition and one is age. Genetics is beyond the scope of this forecast, and probably the hardest to delineate across a landscape, anyway. Nutrition gets more ink from year to year because changes in rainfall are so visible, as they certainly are this year. It’s a given; wildlife is stressed.
But often overlooked by the nearsighted is the age factor — the third leg of the stool. With quail, everyone looks to the current year’s hatch to determine hunting prospects. Not so with deer. A whitetail’s body is considered mature at 4½ years, although antlers grow until about age 7½. Conditions at birth also factor in. David Veale points out that the 2007 South Texas fawn crop was an excellent one, and got off to a healthy start in life. Out of a large class, more will survive. Those that did are 4½ this year. Look back at last season, too. Because of excellent range conditions, deer didn’t have to move around to find food, and the harvest was lower than usual. More carryover. Terry Turney compiled the Hill Country reports and quotes Derrick Wolter saying, “A lot of deer did not get shot, and there should be some nice, older bucks in the mix.”
In the Trans-Pecos, Jason Wagner speaks of hunters reporting seeing many 4½- to 5½-year-old bucks last season. Mike Miller reports for North Texas and quotes James Edwards as saying of last season: “Fewer young bucks are being reported in the harvest. Landowners have seen better quality deer over the entire area.” Management is helping. David Sierra reports that in the post oak region of East Texas, antler restrictions are bringing more older bucks into the harvest. The younger bucks that were allowed to walk last year are a year older now.
There can be no disputing that body conditions and antlers will be below average this year, as Charlie Newberry in Henrietta and Ralph Suarez in Ballinger and practically every wildlife biologist contributing to this report mention. It’s statewide. Current range conditions, though, when coupled with low harvests of a large age class, indicate that there could be a lot of bucks in the 4½-year age class and older out there looking for food this season. And where will they look? Oh, to own a feed store!
They’re everywhere! Except perhaps in arid West Texas. They like water. District leader David Forrester (La Grange) has plenty of hogs in his district: “Drought doesn’t seem to negatively impact production all that much, but it does congregate them in riparian areas (river/creek bottoms) and other water sources.” Evan McCoy, on the drought-depressed Kerr Wildlife Management Area, says in the Hill Country, even the hogs look poor. In Llano and San Saba counties, Dale Schmidt reports that last year’s abundant acorn crop enabled hogs to raise many piglets, which will be of prime size for hunters this season. They’re delicious. A new law now permits landowners to market hog hunts from helicopters, too.